The term ‘community hub’ could not be more accurate when it comes to describing The Park Centre in Knowle, South Bristol. Built for the local community, it’s a place that offers a huge range of opportunities for education, learning, business, leisure and support services. Designed to be affordable and accessible to all ages and abilities, there’s something to suit everyone, combined with a real sense of warmth, friendship, inclusivity and community as you walk through the door.
The bright airy spaces are buzzing with people getting on with being purposeful and involved. Beyond the warm welcome for visitors and the friendly banter between regulars, there’s so much going on. New courses being signed up for; art sessions completed; gym workout in progress; fresh coffee made and served; tasty tomatoes on sale, picked from the organic community garden; business meetings underway; minibus full of excited children preparing to depart for an activity away day. This is a community forging its own bright future.
Alongside the gym, cafe, meeting rooms, dance studio, nursery and community garden there is a complete education centre catering for a range of needs in a nurturing environment, including for young people who are supported to gain the qualifications, skills and confidence to help them enter the world of work.
However, the 15-acre site hasn’t always looked like this. Back in 2000 on the site of a closed school, the local community created a focal point for support and progress. Over a period of time, it gradually became clear that the facilities and buildings as they stood were not fit for purpose and needed replacement in order to realise the potential of this community hub.
By this time, a charity had been formed to run The Park with a board of trustees led by David Freed, the Master of SMV in 2021/22, and a plan was created. The community interest company Bristol & Bath Regional Capital (BBRC) stepped in to help and vital funding was secured from a wide range of sources including individual private donations.
Already committed supporters of the South Bristol community, SMV has been privileged to play a supporting role in the development of The Park, as founding members of BBRC and through substantial donations made by some of SMV’s members. As hands-on sponsors of Merchants’ Academy and Venturers’ Academy, both in Withywood, and as long-term supporters of South Bristol Youth and the Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership, SMV was well aware how important The Park was and would continue to be for an area beset by inequality, not only in financial terms but in education, health and housing as well.
An £8.5m investment led to brand new buildings and facilities being built adjacent to the old site, which in turn will be redeveloped into a new secondary school opening in 2024/25.
The new Park Centre was opened in February 2022, throwing open its doors to even more members of the local community. In fact, some 750-1000 people frequent The Park every week. It’s home to an increasing number of businesses, organisations and charities including Square Food Foundation, Step and Stone, Brandon Trust, Park Knowle FC, Community Learning, Youth Moves and many more.
The Park is run by a small management team led by Emma Hinton. A South Bristol resident herself, Emma oversees the smooth running of the centre on a daily basis. “It’s the best job in the world,” Emma says. “I’m really proud to be part of this community. We just needed the tools to get things done and now everyone who’s part of The Park is taking it from strength to strength. It’s brilliant that the people of South Bristol are demonstrating how to grow mighty oaks from little acorns!”